What’s the greatest cause of death from cigarette smoking? Most people would say lung cancer. True, smoking is the leading cause of this cancer, which kills approximately 160,000 Americans a year. But what many don’t realize is that cigarettes may cause even more deaths from heart attack—smoking is believed to be the cause of about one in every four deaths from coronary artery disease and to be a major cause of stroke as well.
The good news is that you can greatly reduce this risk—even if you’ve been smoking for years. Researchers have shown, for instance, that women between ages 35 and 39 who quit smoking can add an average of three years to their lives. Fifteen years after quitting altogether, the risk of death for ex-smokers is almost the same as for people who never lit up.
Here are 17 tips you or a friend or family member can use to help ease the way to a smoke-free life.
- Choose your method and stick with it. Quitting “cold turkey” can be an effective way to stop smoking. But if you fear you won’t be able to handle the sudden withdrawal, try a gradual approach instead. Whichever you choose, pick in advance which day you’re going to quit and stick to it, or commit to cutting down to a certain number of cigarettes per day.
- Keep a “smoking” diary. Before “quitting day,” keep a written record of all the situations that trigger your desire to smoke. Then come up with alternative coping strategies to help you deal with those stressors after you quit.
- Destroy all traces. If you quit cold turkey, immediately get rid of every cigarette in your house and office. Hide your ashtrays, matches and lighters.
- Build obstacles. If you decide to quit gradually, make it hard to have a smoke. Wrap your cigarette packages in tape. Switch to menthols or a brand you don’t like. If you’re right-handed, smoke with your left hand.
- Flush out toxins. Because nicotine is eliminated from the body by way of the kidneys, you may be able to decrease your cravings for cigarettes by drinking a lot of water—at least six to eight glasses per day.
- Fear not fat. The rumors you’ve heard about gaining weight after quitting are probably exaggerated. In reality, the average weight gain after quitting smoking is just five pounds. To limit this gain, make sure you eat a well-balanced diet. Substitute fruit for sweets and choose low-calorie, low-fat foods for snacking. Stay away from salty and sugary foods because they’ll trigger the urge to smoke.
- Begin a fitness plan. In addition to helping you lose weight, exercise relieves tension and takes your mind off smoking.
- Occupy your hands. If you feel the urge to hold something, try fiddling with a pencil.
- Chew on this. If you miss having something in your mouth, munch on carrots, celery, apples or sugar-free gum.
- Focus on the positive. Have your teeth cleaned on the day you quit and notice how much better they look without those yellow stains. When you get the urge to smoke, brush your teeth instead and savor the clean taste.
- Avoid smoke. Spend the first few days after you quit in places where smoking isn’t allowed, such as movie theaters, libraries and museums. Don’t go to bars or attend parties. If you absolutely have to light something, try incense or candles.
- Change your habits. If you always light up after a meal, don’t linger at the table after you’ve finished eating. If you usually have a cigarette with a cup of coffee, switch to tea or soda.
- Use your support system. Call friends, family members and successful ex-smokers for a pep talk when you’re feeling edgy. The conversation will keep your mind off smoking and make you feel better.
- Reward yourself. Calculate the money you’re saving by not buying cigarettes and use that money to buy something you’ve always wanted.
- Commiserate and conquer. Smoking-cessation programs help you quit while providing an instant support group full of other ex-smokers. Check with your doctor or hospital for details about these programs.
- See your doctor. If you’re wary of quitting, your doctor may prescribe nicotine gum or a patch you can use to wean yourself from cigarettes. Most doctors recommend using these therapies in conjunction with a support group or smoking-cessation program.
- Relax. Instead of reaching for a cigarette to calm you down, use proven relaxation techniques. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Try a warm bath or a long walk. Tell yourself to hang in there—because the urge to light up will certainly pass.